Monday, June 29, 2015

She Got Me

Yesterday afternoon, although it was still grey and cloudy, it finally stopped raining, so we decided to take a look into the honey supers on the Wonderland and Pooh hives to see if they needed any more space.  Turns out they didn't, but they're doing well with the space they've got.

But I got my first sting in 35 years, my first sting since becoming a beekeeper.  Totally my fault, too.

I was dressed in a dark, short-sleeved shirt and nice pants, and I wasn't in the mood to take part in going into the hives, as I'd just gotten back from a 3-hour face painting gig, so I was across the yard while Eric donned his gear to take a look.

Well, me being me, I got curious and wanted to see too, so I got closer and closer.  Eric took the top super off the Pooh hive, put it on the ground, and was looking at honey frames in the second super, as I got closer to have a look at the top super, which was now uncovered, wide open, on the ground.  I stood right next to it, leaning over to look in from the top, for all intents and purposes, looking to the bees like a big ol' looming bear about to attack (to a bee, dark clothes a human looks like a potential bear, and therefore a huge threat) their indefensible hive.


I felt her land in the crook of my elbow, realized I'd scared them, and immediately walked away from the hives, not freaking out (kudos to me!) not swatting at her, trying to shake my arm to shake her off, but it was already too late.  I felt the pinch as she stung me, and immediately scraped out the stinger, which is what you want to do if you're ever stung, FYI.  It was weird, then.  I felt a gradual, but quick heat start to build, and I knew it was going to hurt.  Not deathly, not intolerably, but it definitely hurt.  I got an ice pack from the freezer, which immediately numbed the pain, and kept it on until the pain subsided on its own.

Later last night, while I was knitting, I was fine.  Every time I straightened my elbow all the way, it felt sore, but not bad.  That's mostly gone now.  What I'm left with is a crazy amount of itching, that's driving me a tad insane, but I'll live.  And for the record, that Benadryl topical anti-itch stuff?  It's useless.  Just so you know.

I'm actually glad it happened.  I'm sorry I scared them, and I'm sorry one of the girls felt the need to go kamikaze, but I'm glad I got stung.  It's good to know that it hurts no more than I remember it hurting 35 years ago, and I've proven to myself that I can handle it fine.  So I'm good!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Back to Knitting

I haven't knitted in months, so there's nothing like starting big, right?  Know that bee blanket Eric wanted me to try that means me learning 4 new techniques?

Started it last night!

This is going to take a loooooooooooooooong time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Rockstar of Beekeeping

Friday was "Bee Day" for us, from beginning to end.

It started with the biggest event, a visit from NJ's Rock Star of Beekeeping, our state apiarist, Tim Schuler.  He's an amazing beekeeper (Eric called him the Bee Whisperer), incredibly knowledgeable, very matter-of-fact, and funny besides.  Definitely someone to emulate.

He and another incredibly experienced member of our Bee Association, probably the best we've got, John Gaut, showed up around 11 a.m. to inspect the three hives in our yard, a service of indescribable value.

Tim chose to start with the Wonderland Hive, which we told him was an early spring split we'd made from the Pooh Hive and a queen from Hudson Valley Bee Supply.

You'll note that Tim works with nothing other than his smoker and glasses - short sleeves, no veil.  I will admit that I was silly and went veil-and-jacket-free that day, but I was taking photos.  (Though you'll see in the videos just how close I get to the bees to get those photos!  No fear!)  I still can't touch 'em, though.  Not yet.  Eric, on the other hand, held his first frame of bees without wearing gloves!

Nice job, E!

Meanwhile, Tim confirmed that the Wonderland hive was doing great and everything looked as it should.  Awesome!  He spotted the queen off to the side (you'll see her in the video if you look closely at where Tim points; she's on the frame that Tim handed to Eric.  I didn't get a separate photo, but she's the extra long one that's a mahogany color and without striping), and thought she looked great.  While in that hive, we got to taste some of our own honey.  Whoa, it's good!  It made me really excited for the club's honey competition in September.

Odd thing, during this inspection (you'll see during the video), John noticed a queen bee on the ground where she shouldn't be.  She wasn't one of ours, and she was behaving like she wanted to mate.  I ran and got a queen cage we had, and John put her on in.

Then we moved onto the Fish Hive, which we already knew from last week was queenless but had capped queen cells.  The cells were still there, still capped, and there were a few more of them too.  The girls were working hard to make themselves queen-right!

Tim confirmed that they had a good population and would likely soon be back on track, and that we'd done the right thing in taking a frame with a capped queen cell over to the queenless swarm hive for them to raise.  He doesn't even think, because of the number of emerging bees in the Fish Hive and capped brood still to emerge, that the population will diminish by the time the new reigning queen is ready to start laying!

The worst part?  He doesn't want us to check the Fish Hive or Swarm Hive until July 4 for eggs and larvae!  Gah!

As an aside, Tim called attention to the awesome waggle dance a bunch of our girls were doing on their front porch, to call their sisters back home.  I've circled a few for you.  See those tushes up in the air?  They were vibrating around like crazy.

We were trying to figure out what was best to do with the queen John found, unmated and without a colony, and Tim commented that he needs video of worker bees not accepting a queen, balling up on her instead of trying to groom and feed her.  So between the GoPro and my camera, we tried to get that footage while inspecting the Pooh Hive.  Didn't work.  Our girls must not have seen her as any sort of threat, as instead of balling up on her, they completely ignored her and even moved away to avoid her.

Something was obviously wrong with her, and Tim said, with all his vast experience, he'd never seen anything like it!  Which, although he didn't get the video he needed, is still pretty nifty.

In the meantime, we got to see, for the very first time ever, a drone pupa.  It's very rare to see pupae, since the brood gets capped over as larvae and then emerges as adult bees; the pupal stage is the one you never see unless you break open a cell or one happens to break, which is what happened here.  He must have been in some burr comb (the comb sometimes built by the workers between levels where the queen occasionally lays drone eggs) that broke when we took the hive apart for the inspection.  Out of that came this awesome photo of a creature that looks more like an alien than an insect.

At any rate, the Pooh hive is bursting at the seams with bees, brood, and honey.

In fact, we saw some of our girls sharing some of that honey with each other.  So cool!

We also saw several of the new bees emerge!  How awesome are they?!

They're so cute, and when they're first out, they stagger around like little colts trying to find their legs... and some honey to eat.

Our queen is amazing, as is the work they're doing.  In fact, we were exceptionally proud when Tim pulled a frame from one of the honey supers and told us that if we were inclined to save it and enter it, it could be a winner at the Sussex County Fair!  Whoa!  So not only is our honey delicious, our girls make beautiful, beautiful frames of it.

After they'd left, we reveled in our success for a bit before heading to a meeting with a director at a local organization who's interested in having one of our hives on their grounds and having us teach their students about bees!  We loved her, and were very happy that she's very excited about it; now she just has to discuss it with the board.  Fingers crossed that they love the idea as much as she and we do!

If they do, you'll be hearing a lot more about it in the future, for sure.

After that, we went to buy yarn for this blanket that Eric wants me to knit.  It'll mean learning four new techniques, but for this blanket, with a big ol' bee as the centerpiece, it's totally worth it!  Plus, I like to learn and want to expand my knitting repertoire anyway.

Eric and I chose a gold yarn somewhere between butter and mustard for the background color and a beautiful dark maroon for the design.  It'll go beautifully with our living room rug, pillows, accent wall, and the dining room chair upholstery.  I'm starting it tonight!

From there, we brought hive boxes to Mahwah, where our two new nucs are spending time until they can come home to our neighbor's yard in Franklin Lakes, and we installed them there into our hives until they can be moved.  That should be July 4 weekend.

While we were in Mahwah, I got a call from a woman who found us on the NJ Swarm Removal List.  I was so happy that she found us and called us before immediately going for an exterminator, but I found when I had her text me a photo of her "honeybees" that they were unfortunately really yellowjackets and required an exterminator.  Ick!

We were sad not to have another swarm to catch, but to be honest, I was relieved at the time we gained back in not chasing it down.  That evening was the monthly Northeast NJ Beekeepers Association meeting, and we were dying to go, especially since Tim was this month's speaker.

He discussed the inspections he'd made over the two days that he was here in northeast NJ, and then focused on mite treatments, as the time for that is coming right after the harvest in July.  These days, as he's adamant, mite treatments are imperative for the life and well-being of bees.  A survey of the past year's experiences of beekeepers across the country showed that untreated hives had a 76% death rate, which is just outright frightening.

So... first the honey, then preparations to treat and help our girls fight their parasitic tormentors.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Ups and Downs

So... rather than "good news first" or "bad news first," I'll do this in chronological order, since the ups and downs are too intertwined and affect each other.

On Saturday, after I face painted and did glitter tattoos from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., we headed over to the swarm hive to see how the girls were doing.

Queenless.  Damnit.

A bunch of comb they'd built, some nectar and/or sugar water in the cells, no brood... no eggs, no larvae, no pupae.  And one empty queen cup.  Queenless.  And without a queen, a colony just can't survive.  Bees only live a month and a half on the outside, so without a queen replenishing the population to the tune of 1,000 - 1,500 eggs daily, the colony just dies out.


Eric spent some of Saturday evening trying to reach anyone from whom we could purchase a mated queen, but had no luck.  So we discussed taking a frame of brood from one of our three backyard hives, which would hopefully have eggs on it (I really wish I could see eggs, but damn these 44-year-old eyes, I can't), giving the swarm the opportunity to move an egg into the queen cup they'd built and raise a new queen.  When bees are queenless, they'll do this, but they need to have eggs under 3 days old available to do this.  Since there were no eggs in the swarm hive, they had nothing to work with.  Giving them another hive's eggs would give them a chance, though this takes a while.  It takes about a month for an egg to become larva, then pupa, then queen, then mate, then start laying.  And it was a small population to start.  So you see the problem.

Well, Sunday we inspected our backyard hives.  The Pooh hive is doing so well that the first honey super is full and nearly capped, the second is getting filled, and we added a third!  Yay for a buncha honey!

And look!  I got a photo of eggs!  See those white lines in the cells toward the top left quadrant of the photo?  Eggs!

The Wonderland hive is also doing very well, and we added a second honey super.

The Fish hive, though... ah, the Fish hive.

Queenless.  Yikes!  Two of four.  Sigh.

But... the good news in this (yes, really, there's good news) is that the Fish hive population is good, and they're hard workers.  They'd already built several queen cups to replace their missing queen, and they were all capped.  That is the real good news, because capped queen cells mean queen pupae, the very next stage before adult bees!  That cuts down the time until they can mate and start laying tremendously!

So... we raced one of the frames with a capped queen cell over to the swarm hive, removed an undrawn frame, and dropped in the one with the potential queen.  Our hope - fingers crossed! - is that the swarm takes care of her and the other brood on that frame, buying themselves some time, and she emerges, mates well, and gets to work.

The bad part is we have to leave them alone for 2 weeks while this all happens!  So fingers are also crossed for good weather on the weekend of June 27-28 so we can take a look and see how they're doing.

Meanwhile, we're trust the Fish hive to right itself.  We gave them the undrawn foundation from the swarm to work on, and there are a few capped queen cells in that hive, or were on Sunday, and with the other two hives neighboring it, lots of drones are available for mating.

Again, we're supposed to leave those girls alone for a couple weeks too, which you know drives me absolutely batty, but we may be going in on Friday.  The NJ State Apiarist, Tim Schuler, will be coming to inspect our three backyard hives and give us feedback (We're so excited!), so it's his call on what whether we can go in and see how the Fish girls are doing.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Making Themselves Comfortable

We checked on the swarm yesterday to see how they're faring... and make sure they didn't just move on out for new digs, as swarms sometimes do when caught and hived.  Nope, they were still there, and the girls were working their little abdomens off!

Sorry some of the photos are so blurry - that's what happens when I had Eric the camera.  But if you look, you can see that on about 4 of the frames, both sides, the girls are building out comb, and if you look closely, you can see that there's a shiny liquid in several of the cells - royal jelly!  That means the queen's laying and there're eggs in those cells.  Soon... more bees!

Since they're doing so well, you can see in the last photo we switched the entrance reducer to the larger opening.  It's a little more space for them to defend, but it gives them more freedom to come and go and do their work.

On another happy note, we checked the three hives in our backyard, and look at this beautiful, beautiful honey!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Eric's an Amazing Ambassador for the Bees

... and a heck of an excellent beekeeper too!

On Wednesday, someone posted in one of our Facebook beekeeping groups about a swarm in Warwick, NY.  It was actually kind of funny; the beekeeper was posting from Oklahoma.  Turns out this New York family was from Oklahoma, back when the wife's (Gayle) mom was the beekeeper's babysitter.  And while Oklahoma's across the country, Warwick's only about 45 minutes from us.  Pure luck!

At any rate, he put Eric in touch with Gayle, who'd first posted a photo of the beautiful swarm on her own Timeline.  She didn't want an exterminator, because she understands about honeybees, but she also didn't want them hanging over her mailbox indefinitely, or directly over the spot where her kids get dropped off by the school bus, which is exactly where they were.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

For those who aren't up on these things, a swarm is what happens when bees get too crowded in their hive.  They raise some new queens that stay in the hive, duke it out, and become the new hive royalty, and take the old queen & half the population leaves with her.  They form a cluster like this - a swarm - huddling up against an object like a tree branch, a mailbox, a picnic table, even a car fender, and send out scout bees in all different directions.  The scouts look for a suitable new home and then come back and waggle dance for the swarming colony; the bee with the best dance wins, and the colony follows her to the new home.

This swarm likely came from one of the nearby orchards; there are a plethora in that part of New York State.  I'd know, I've gone apple picking in Warwick!

Bees are amazing creatures.  They do so many things they shouldn't be able to physically do.  Like fly!  With their non-aerodynamic shape and their weight, their wings shouldn't be able to carry them, but they do.  They also can hold up some pretty heavy weight, like Gayle's swarm was doing.  Ever put a paper clip on a magnet and then touch other magnets to the magnetized paper clip, and keep going to see how long a chain the magnetic force will allow?  That's sort of what these bees were doing, but with their own strength.  The top bees hang onto the branch, while the lower bees just hang onto other bees, in a cluster, keeping the queen inside to protect and warm her.  Crazy, right?

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

Well, before he left for Warwick, Eric already knew that the swarm was about 15' off the ground, so he brought a ladder, but we only have a shorter one.  Gayle and her husband, Mike, have a tall ladder, but it's the kind you need to prop against something, so Eric drove on up, hoping it'd work.  In addition to our ladder, he brought his long-sleeved shirt, veil and gloves, bee brush, a saw, and a hive body (a deep, if you check out last week's post), bottom board, cover, entrance reducer, and ratchet strap to tie it all together once he had the bees inside... if he got the bees.

Turned out that the tree was on a slope, too steep for the ladder Gayle and Mike had, and the swarm was of course too high for our ladder.  Fortuitously, Gayle and Mike have a pole saw, so Eric borrowed that.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

As Eric tells it, the bees chose to fall to a lower branch rather than immediately into the box, so he had to cut that branch down too.  Good thing he was dealing with a wonderful family who cared more about helping the bees and getting this experience than losing a couple branches off their pretty evergreen!

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

Once they were there, he was able to shake the bees off the branch into the hive body.  Bees, when they're swarming like this, are actually at their most docile, even though they look really intimidating.  They have no hive to protect, so their priority is just to keep the queen safe and wait around for the scouts to tell them where to go.

 (Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young) 

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young) 

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

They were so docile, that the sea of bees buzzing all around Eric weren't the slightest bit concerned with him being there.  They weren't even annoyed.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young) 

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young) 

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

Gayle and Mike's sons were happily watching the whole scene from a nearby tree, unbothered by bees.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

Eric knew he had the queen in the hive once the rest of the bees started going into the deep of their own volition.  Bees will follow their queen anywhere, so once you've got her, you've got the swarm.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

After that, all there is to do is to wait for all the bees to head on in.  Eric said it took about 20 minutes.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

In the meantime, there were some very interested young men who got to try Eric's veil and gloves so they could see the bees close up too!

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young) 

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young) 

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

And this is how new beekeepers happen!  The boys were so excited that Eric is sure they'll be working to convince their parents that they need hives too.  Hope they're successful!

Eventually, he had a complete box of bees.

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

 (Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

(Photo:  Gayle Beck Young)

I love that last photo.  Once they were all in, he left with a promise from the family that they'll come to New Jersey and visit our hives!

The bees stayed sealed in the hive box all night until Thursday morning, when Eric and I brought them to the house of a friend who wants bees for her garden (and the environment in general), but doesn't want to be a beekeeper.  So they're still our bees, just living with her and her husband.

We got the hive placed in its spot behind the peonies.  You can see the entrance reducer still on, with a receipt wrapped around the hole in it to keep the bees in safely.  It's that pale wood bar right above the front porch there.

Once we got the ratchet strap open, Eric lifted the lid, at which point I found that the girls were all clinging to the top corner of the hive, of course the least convenient place for them to be, at least for our purposes.

I'll admit, it was disconcerting.  I've seen photos like this, but it was the first time I was up close and personal with a dense cluster of bees.  Eric held the lid over the hive body while I used a bee brush to brush them all in.  A bee brush is just what it sounds like, a brush with ultra soft bristles so the bees don't get injured when you direct them where you want them to go.

They didn't get injured, but they definitely got agitated.  I was happy to be wearing my jacket, veil, and gloves.  By this time, they'd been knocked out of a tree, driven an hour to New Jersey, and then driven again to another house.  Plus, now that they had a home, they wanted to get to work building it, not be bothered by us.  We were quick, though.

Eventually, we had them where we needed them, added 10 frames of foundation, put on the inner cover, a feeding bucket filled with sugar water (and Honey B Healthy - an essential oil mix that keeps the sugar water from going bad & gives them some added nutrients) in a second deep, and then the outer cover on top.  (FYI, frames are literally wooden rectangular frames that we put together, each holding one thin sheet of beeswax foundation for the girls to get a head start working on to build out their honeycomb.)

Our friend had designated a spot for them with welcome signs, since she wouldn't be home when we got there.


We did leave the entrance reducer in (that pale bar right above the front porch/landing board) so that, as a very small colony, they don't have too much space to defend.

The cutest thing... before Eric left the Warwick home on Wednesday, one of the boys gave him a dandelion for the bees (too sweet!), so I was sure to put it on their landing board where they could have it.

I already want to go back to see how they're doing!
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